Both cases close on unexpected notes in an episode that honors those past and looks to the future for Linden and Holder
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And so The Killing‘s series finalebegins just as the pilot did, with Sarah Linden running. But this is not the tranquil jog of the show’s opener. It’s a frantic sprint, like she’s running for her life. As soon as she spots the red pinwheel she cherished as a child—referenced during Linden’s reunion with her biological mother in the show’s penultimate episode—it’s clear all this is a dream. Below that pinwheel is young Sarah Linden herself, buried and lifeless. After all these years working soul-crushing homicide cases (and going in and out of the psych ward), it took this entanglement with the Pied Piper (her partner, her lover, her boss, her first murder victim) to truly rob Linden of her innocence. Behind Linden, a gun comes into frame. Is death the only way she can return to her former, better self? Once the trigger is pulled, it blasts Linden into the waking world to find out.

In another echo of the pilot, a line of men scours the forest. Only these aren’t police, looking to solve a crime—they are cadets at a twisted military academy, unwittingly abetting one. Kyle Stansbury’s bloody handprint tells them they’re not far behind.

At the obstetrician’s office, Holder is battling so many demons that he’s barely present. It’s something Caroline has mentioned several times in the last couple of weeks, and she deserves an explanation for his distance. Holder says he’s sick—a loaded word that covers every one of his current problems (sick with guilt, sick like an addict, sick in the head…). Without saying his crime—he wouldn’t dare utter it in front of his wife-to-be and his unborn child—he tells Caroline he has a choice to make “between you and her.” He is absolutely destroyed in acknowledging what he’s become (or, more to point, who he’s become: his father). Caroline immediately understands the other woman is Linden and presumably thinks the betrayal is physical. She dismisses Holder’s self-loathing, putting on her lawyer face and insisting nothing matters now except their baby. Once Holder hears the heartbeat of his daughter(!), the clouds sweep away from his face, and it seems he believes Caroline.

Magic bullet status update: Still no bullet. But the phone does ring while Linden search, and she heads to a rainy lot and waits (back on the cigs like old times). A bloody hand slaps her window. It’s Kyle. He’s been shot, and the memories of his family’s murder are flooding—another, and perhaps The Killing‘s last, pathetic fallacy. It is absolutely pouring outside as Kyle identifies Fielding, Knopf, and Colonel Rayne as murderers. As Linden cradles him, just like he cradled his 6-year-old sister Nadine through her night terrors, Kyle wails, “I don’t want to remember. I don’t want to remember. I don’t want to remember!” Then, pitifully: “I want go home.”

Linden deposits Kyle at her house so she can do some work. He looks out the window, musing that this must be “what Eden was like.” She riffs on their first conversation, saying that a tree outside is the Tree of Life. She assures him he’ll be safe, that no one will find him. But if Linden possesses the same skill for hiding people as she does for covering up murders, I’m not so confident.

NEXT: Blood, Rayne

Rayne returns to her office and is startled by Fielding and Knopf. As the Colonel badgers them about their tone, their lack of trust, and sticking to the plan, Knopf unsurprisingly proves to be the grou[‘s wild card. He suggests killing Rayne right there—but this old broad’s seen a lot more life than these scared cadets. In fact, she was the one who had to clean up their mess after they stole her car to go to the Stansburys that fateful night. Fearing they’ll be in her thrall forever, Knopf and Fielding start to leave the room together.

Downstairs, Linden and Holder have their warrant in hand and are ushering in a squad of officers to arrest Rayne. They hear two decisive blasts and find that Rayne has shot the boys. Though she confesses to the murders, Linden has evidence that she’s lying and wonders who Rayne is protecting. It’s then that Linden sees the soldiers lined up in Rayne’s display case and realizes that Kyle was the baby Rayne had lost 17 years before. “Don’t tell him, please,” Rayne begs. “He’ll think that I didn’t want him. He’ll never understand. I’m just not built that way.” And, just so Holder’s extra-conflicted about his impending fatherhood, she continues, “To love a child makes you open to all the hurt in the world.”

Rayne insists through tears that she be arrested for these crimes she ardently believes she set in motion. For the first time, she and Linden see eye to eye. Rayne places her weapon down and, as Holder reads her Miranda rights, she and Linden exchange powerful, knowing glance.

Or perhaps those glances were conspiratorial? Linden is hell-bent on charging Rayne with all the murder, even though Holder points out she did not kill the Stansburys. Holder wants to bring Kyle into the station, and Linden spits out (echoing Rayne), “Don’t you touch him!” She draws her gun on Holder, at which point it’s obvious she has lost the plot. But this isn’t about Kyle. It’s about Skinner, and the shell casing, and Linden’s deep issues with abandonment. She’s convinced herself that Holder took the shell casing as insurance and was colluding with Reddick to set her up. (We saw this was not the case when Reddick had to go it alone at the Deputy’s office.) The sheer force of hurling out all these accusations doubles Linden over, knocking the wind out of her. As she recovers, Holder walks away silently, disgusted.

NEXT: Kyle explains it all

So how does a mentally unstable detective really push herself over the edge? She goes back to the scene of a quadruple homicide. Kyle sits at the piano, fully aware that he was actually involved in the murders… the driving force behind them, in fact. “This is home—the place that you’re supposed to be safe, loved,” he says. Instead, he only ever felt hatred, both directed at him and emanating from within himself. The hazing and psychotic “kill the things you love” philosophy of his cadet brothers simple gave him a rationale for what had always been brewing inside.

Linden sees things another way: “Sometimes you have to do something wrong to make it right… sometimes you have to make impossible choices.” It’s worth noting that Jonathan Demme directed this episode, and the way Linden and Kyle are framed is very “Quid Pro Quo.” When Kyle admits he wanted to die and begs for a way out, though, the serene smile on Linden’s face makes it seem like Kyle is the lamb up for slaughter. She’s absolved of her parental burden, beyond the baggage of her own troubled childhood, and actually capable of murder (humanity’s greatest exercise in power)—has Linden transcended? Have we lost her?

Not entirely. Linden is angling for Kyle’s confession, which he gives freely. He was behind everything. (Called it: Primal Fear.) In fact, Fielding and Knopf had fled the scene after a few shots, leaving Kyle to systematically murder his parents and sister Phoebe. Only after he sat down, blood-spattered, to tickle the ivories did Nadine arrive and ask—as she had in his dream—”Are the monsters gone?” He told his “Baby Bird” to close her eyes. In the present, he wept into the blood-soaked carpet where her body had lain: “I was the monster. It was me.”

NEXT: And now for the throwback portion of the finale…

Not long after, Linden faces her own monsters in the interrogation room with Reddick. After she denies Holder had any involvement, Reddick admits he offered Holder a deal because he thought he’d be the weak link. Linden is ready to waive her rights and sign anything when who rolls in but Mayor Darren Richmond. He tells a very different story about Skinner’s death, which the coroner ruled a suicide. Imagine the damage to the city’s (read: his) image if it were revealed that a cop had been Seattle’s latest serial killer. Linden is righteously indignant. She killed Skinner to serve justice (albeit mostly personal), and now the very justice she fought—and failed—to enact publicly has been obliterated once again… by her, by Skinner, by Richmond. Even the threat of a press leak doesn’t flap Richmond, who cites Linden’s history of mental illness. It’s an especially ironic outcome, considering how Linden’s accusations against Richmond incited the shooter who paralyzed him; in a twisted way, this is his revenge. He exits, leaving Reddick, who repeats, “Always the one with the conscience,” then adds dolefully, “Sometimes that’s not enough.”

Perhaps it’s enough for Holder, who saw Linden clear his name. He decides to pay back the good karma by waiting for Danette to visit Kallie’s grave. He hands her Kallie’s earring, apologizes for his outburst, and mentions that he’s going to have a little girl. “I just don’t want to f— it up,” he tells Danette. She replies succinctly, “Then don’t.”

When Danette asks about Linden, Holder excuses himself and heads to another grave that reads “Rachel Olmstead.” BULLET! He drapes Bullet’s necklace across the tombstone and walks away, and the shot lingers on the back of her stone, which displays the winged-heart FAITH tattoo the teen designed.

In her now-empty home, Linden finds her own bullet—the shell casing that had rolled onto an air vent. She picks it up, steps out into an uncharacteristically sunny day and drives into the horizon.

NEXT: Present perfect?

Five or so years later, Holder’s adorable daughter Kalia is trash-talking his vegan cupcakes and his scratchy goatee (chip off the old block). He puts her on the bus to school and promises to pick her up at her mom’s on Saturday. Can’t say I’m surprised Holder and Caroline didn’t make it, but he seems to have gotten his s— together, just like Linden always urged. Holder walks outside during a break from his new job (he’s leading an NA group) and spies his former partner. He greets her with a signature, “Ohhhhh snap! 1-900-LINDEN, dial and you shall receive!” She greets him with a warm smile and a callback quip about her Ross Dress for Less 3-for-1 rack scarf. Linden catches him up on her life (she’s been traveling, Jack’s in college and very tall), and Holder asks, “So did you find him in all your travels… the bad guy?” She realizes only now that “there is no bad guy. There’s just… I don’t know… life.” Says Holder, “We tried at least.”

Holder wonders, then, why she’s really here. Linden admits she never felt like she had a home growing up or as an adult; looking back, she realizes their partnership was home to her, that he was her best friend. She apologizes for not trusting him or realizing he would never betray her. She says she’s only passing through, but he ask her to stay—playfully at first, then with an undercurrent of real yearning. This is when the sexual tension surging through this scene became most apparent. I’d been feeling it, second-guessing myself, then feeling it some more. But the mood shifts with Holder’s clean-and-sober plea. It’s a completely different dynamic than season 3’s clumsy almost-kiss, which was borne of his grief and her maternal instinct. Now they stand on even (and much more stable) ground.

Linden resists the urge to stay and try to recapture what they had. She calls Seattle a “city of the dead.” Holder challenges her to close her eyes so she can finally see “what’s standing right in front of you. It ain’t ghosts, Linden. It ain’t the dead.” Never much of a dreamer, still slightly unwilling to trust, Linden succumbs to the urge to flee. Maybe partially because she knows this would be the perfect time for him to kiss her, maybe because she’s scared this thing could work… or scared it wouldn’t. But Holder grabs her so their eyes meet one more time. Hers are wide open, unwilling to close. Holder relents, gives her a long, tight hug, and lets her go. But he walks behind the car to watch Linden drive away. Class-A move, Holder. Swaggin’ ’til the end.

Linden has a localized Claire Fisher moment to The Jezabels’ “Peace of Mind.” Driving around Seattle, she relives the horrors and triumphs of the past, even recreating the series’ emblematic opening-credits shot. And, for once, she seems at ease. A bit later, Holder leaves his meetings for the night. He pauses in disbelief as he sees Linden has returned. She gets out of her car, he walks nearer, they both let hopeful smiles spread across their faces, and… cut to black.

I have to say, the chemistry was always there, but the flash forward to the open-ended possibility of romance was… unexpected. Don’t get me wrong: It was great to see Mireille Enos smile, and even better to see Joel Kinnaman-as-Holder looking clean and healthy. It’s an interesting thread to toy with: Perhaps in a world where Linden and Holder genuinely do have it together, a relationship between them could work. But do I want to see that show? What made their connection compelling was the polarity at work—their most excellent selves and their most flawed selves, grappling and shifting to accommodate one other. Oh hell, I suppose Seattle has to be sunny sometimes, too. Take it away, Jane Siberry.

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The Killing
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